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Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Second Amendment – Not Just For Hunters

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Dec. 22, 2007.)
Hunters are only a fraction of the complete set of people
who benefit from the right to bear arms.
A mistaken assumption is floating around America -- that the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States relates to hunting.

The Second Amendment says nothing about hunting.

Of course, hunters are huge beneficiaries of the right to keep and bear arms. Without the Second Amendment, widespread hunting would not be possible. But hunters are only a fraction of the complete set of people who benefit -- the entire United States population.

Gun grabbers tell hunters not to worry about gun regulations. “We’ll leave hunting guns alone,” they say. “We only want reasonable restrictions on handguns and military style weapons -- the kinds of guns most commonly used in crimes.” Don’t believe it.

The fact is that the weapons the gun grabbers want to outlaw are functionally identical to the ones millions of hunters use, along with countless other weapons people use to resist crime. For example, when laws against sinister-looking semi-automatics are proposed, the description of those guns includes the guns that the majority of bird hunters and trap shooters use, and guns that law-abiding people use for self-defense.

That’s because semi-automatic firearms, whether rifles, handguns, or shotguns, all use excess gas from burning gunpowder to cycle the gun’s action. The pressure of the gas ejects a spent cartridge and positions a new round ready to fire at the next pull of the trigger. It doesn’t matter whether one gun has an ugly black synthetic stock and another has beautifully figured walnut.

Don’t be confused that outlawing such guns is the same as prohibiting them. Outlaw them and you’ll get citizens who want to obey the law to relinquish them, but you will not prohibit people with criminal intent from acquiring them and using them. And they’re more likely to use them against unarmed innocents.

That was amply illustrated two weeks ago when a man, bent on mass killing, entered a Colorado Christian mission organization that he had a beef with and killed two innocent people. He then drove to a church in a neighboring town and entered the church with weapon drawn, backed up by as many as 1000 rounds of ammunition.

Fortunately, unlike schools, post offices, hospitals, many office buildings and other commercial establishments, that church was not declared a gun-free zone. And fortunately, someone was there who carried a handgun for self-defense. A responsible gun owner named Jeanne Assam courageously fired her personal weapon and ended the carnage after just two people were killed.

Had bad laws prevented Jeanne Assam from carrying her weapon, many more would undoubtedly have died. Instead, the killer’s life was ended before he could accomplish all he had set out to do.

Back in 1991 a bad law did enable a gunman to murder 23 people at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. The killer crashed his truck through the window of the restaurant where 80 patrons were enjoying lunch. In addition to the 23 he executed, he wounded at least 20 more before being cornered and committing suicide.

One of the patrons of the restaurant was Suzanne Gratia Hupp, a citizen gun owner who was prohibited by law from carrying her gun inside. Both her parents were among the dead. Had she, or anyone else, been legally permitted to carry a weapon, 80 law-abiding citizens eating a peaceful meal at Luby’s would have been much safer. Instead, Luby’s didn’t turn out to be gun-free at all -- it turned out to be a victim disarmament zone.

Until the massacre of 32 people earlier this year at Virginia Tech University (another victim disarmament zone), the Luby’s incident was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone criminal gunman in United States history.

The lesson of Luby’s, Virginia Tech and the Colorado church should be obvious. As long as criminals believe that good people are not likely to be armed, those people are not safe. We need fewer victim disarmament zones, and more responsible citizens like Jeanne Assam who are willing to stand between criminals and their targets.

Gun free zones are a failed policy. Luby’s Cafeteria, Columbine, Virginia Tech and a long list of places became sites of horrendous tragedy because killers could be confident that no one would fight back.

It’s time Americans learn that the Second Amendment is not just for hunters. It’s for all of us.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

What About That White Bear Cub?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Dec. 8, 2007.)
Mother Nature is not kind to her defective children.
It was white. It was small. And people got mad.

A bear hunter killed an albino cub during Pennsylvania’s three-day bear season in November, and made national news. It seems that everyone has an opinion. So do I. But first, a nutshell history of Pennsylvania’s black bears.

Most people do not know that management of black bears in Pennsylvania is a huge success story. Pennsylvania bear biologists really know what they’re doing. It hasn’t always been that way.

Until the mid 1970’s little was known about the state’s black bears. Even a reliable population estimate was lacking. A dwindling bear population caused the Pennsylvania Game Commission to close bear season in 1977 and 1978. Through an intensive research program involving trapping and tagging we learned that Pennsylvania bears grow faster, get larger, and reproduce more prolifically than black bears anywhere else in the world.

Before Pennsylvania’s thorough research into its bear population, killing cubs was illegal. For enforcement purposes, cubs were defined as bears weighing less than 100 pounds.

That presented a problem because the size of bears is notoriously difficult to judge. Hunters, even experienced hunters, have difficulty. Besides that, check stations set up for the purpose of gathering data and certifying harvest numbers would see 90-pound adult sows, and 110-pound cubs. Obviously, the size restriction didn’t protect all cubs and didn’t make all adults legal targets.

So once the bear population rebounded, bear cubs became legal targets in Pennsylvania, and there is a reason why. The research taught Pennsylvania’s bear biologists that, with a relatively mild climate (compared to northern Canada and Alaska) and an absence of natural predators on bears (no wolves, no grizzlies, no cougars), bear cubs do just fine if their mother is killed in hunting season. So, with Pennsylvania’s high reproduction rates and a rapidly increasing bear population, the size restriction was removed.

Now, a hunter has killed an albino cub, and he has been castigated in the press. He has been called every name you can think of for doing something that is legal. Some people think it’s unethical. Some want it to be made illegal. And some think all albinos should be protected simply because they are rare.

Would I have killed the albino cub? No, but that doesn’t make me more righteous than a hunter who did. I’d rather not kill any cub, albino or not.

But the fact that it was an albino should not make this cub a poster bear for people who are against hunting bears, nor should it put pressure on the hunter to feel remorse or the PGC to change the rules.

Albinism is, genetically speaking, a birth defect. That’s why it’s rare. Usually, with albinism come other disabilities. Often albinos are cursed with poor eyesight. Most albinos do not survive long because Mother Nature is not kind to her defective children. They’re supposed to be rare, the rarer the better. It’s called survival of the fittest.

So the fact that albinos are rare is no reason to protect them. In fact, it’s fair to say that Mother Nature wants them dead.

Another genetic abnormality even less common than albinism is melanism. While albinism is the absence of skin pigmentation, melanism is its opposite -- the abnormal presence or overabundance of black skin pigmentation.

Of course, in some animals melanism is common enough to be normal. Black bears and black squirrels come to mind. But occasionally black deer have been killed, and although they are far rarer than albino deer, no one suggests they should be protected for their rarity.

So, what do I think about the killing of an albino bear cub? I wish it would not have happened, but I do not think it is unethical. Nor do I think it should be illegal. I just think that bear cubs, and young animals of every hue, should have the chance to grow up -- even if it’s not a good chance.

What’s my solution? If it were enforceable, I’d like to see killing of multiple bears from the same group made illegal. That way, a mother could be taken and her cubs might grow up. But then, I’m not smarter than the average bear biologist.